Cancelling July 4th, but Not Totally, Newsletter Excerpt

This is an excerpt of the latest newsletter. Please subscribe here.

Cancelling July 4th, but Not Totally, Apt. 11D, June 19, 2020

For me, July 4th will always remind me of vouchers for free hot dogs and pony rides at Tenafly, New Jersey’s annual Independence Day festival. 

Every year, my best friend du jour and I would wait on a line for pink and light blue cotton candy that flew in the breeze. Back when the lines between adults and kids were more clearly drawn, my parents would never dream of accompanying us. My girlfriends and I would eat and drink our fill and walk home only when our pockets were empty of vouchers and coins. Sometimes our parents would take us to watch the fireworks later that evening, while seated in folding chairs in the town commons. 

July 4th was, and has continued to be, a day of corny cheer and sugary treats. Maybe a local official or two might make some speeches that remind the youth about wars and fights for freedom. But this holiday has long been divorced from meaning and, instead, become a moment for pyrotechnics and pies. 

Tomorrow, we will have the oddest July 4th ever. Celebrations are cancelled. There will be no pony rides and hot dogs for Tenafly’s latest crop of tots and tweens, because of fear of virus transmission. And lately, our nation’s founders have been cancelled in the modern twitter sense of the word. 

The founders’ role in maintaining, and even promoting, the institution of slavery has been noted by leaders of BLM marches and by pundits. Washington’s statue in Washington Square Park in Manhattan was defaced this month. Others are being toppled along with the meanest Confederate generals. 

Meanwhile, we have Lin-Manuel Miranda’s Hamilton playing tonight on the Disney channel. I proudly saw it on Broadway with the original cast and have played the soundtrack so many times that it is used as an element of torture for teenagers who refuse to wake up at a suitable time in the morning. Miranda’s Hamilton is a multi-cultural tribute to American values, to the spirit of revolution and the promise of immigration and the validity of the American dream. Like a Latino version of James Cagney’s Yankee Doodle Dandy, he celebrates our nation’s roots and mission. The color of George Washington changed, but he is the same good guy from history books. 

We are clearly conflicted about this holiday and our origins. And perhaps that is a healthy process. It’s always better to think about ideas, than to let ourselves get lost in schmaltz. So, let’s talk about ideas for a minute…

The second sentence in the Thomas Jefferson’s Declaration of Independence — “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.” — is heavily borrowed from the English enlightenment philosopher, John Locke.

Locke believed that God gives each of one of us certain rights that are imprinted on our soul and that are totally obvious to everyone. Those rights include the rights to self preservation and to own the land on which we toil. Those rights can’t be taken away, nor can we give them away willingly to a tyrannical king in exchange for safety and security. Freedom is baked into our souls, in other words. Everybody equally has those rights, even if we aren’t equal in any other way. 

While the United States gave more people the right to vote and participate in government than any other large country in history, many were denied that privilege. If you were a woman or didn’t hold land, you were out of luck. Not to mention that Black people were denied those natural rights that Jefferson made such an important justification for revolution. Still, I believe that the ideas were purer than the person. The ideas were worth fighting and dying for, even if the individual himself was flawed. 

I hope we can find a way to recognize contradictions and honor sacrifices of our origins, while improving on the original vision. It really is our only hope. The alternative is to tear everything down and be left with the nihilism and cruelty that exists on the anarchic Internet. Be well! Laura

15 thoughts on “Cancelling July 4th, but Not Totally, Newsletter Excerpt

    1. yes? It’s based on a dozen (at least) political theory and history classes at the university of chicago and CUNY grad school.


      1. Oh well okay then. . sorry. I defer to your superior credentials. And if you’re interested try squaring it with chapter 9 section 124. Or don’t.


      1. Don’t know what was tweeted so can’t respond directly.

        But, nothing, in my world.

        CHAZ/CHOP has been cleared, the police have lost the confidence of my social circle, including me, people have joined a lot of book clubs. There have been some tragic deaths which will influence the protests (say, on the freeway). The mayor asked for an investigation of our socialist city council member and was turned down by the city council. There were white supremacists at the small area yesterday but it hasn’t made the news.

        The breathless reporting does not reflect the state of the Seattle, I’d say in our neighborhood, but, really, anywhere.

        Folks have shared this Seattle times video with me as a pretty good review:


      2. The big kids and I did a trolley tour around Seattle a couple years ago.

        One of the highlights of the tour (which I 100% recommend) was driving by a naked guy on Capitol Hill. As I recall, he had on a backpack, and possibly some shoes, but other than that, he didn’t have a stitch on. The Russian sailors behind us on the trolley tour thought it was the funniest thing ever.


      3. Also, in case people were unaware of this, Seattle’s Capitol Hill is pretty gay and traditionally has a lot of “alternative” folk.

        (I stayed on Capitol Hill with my great-aunt one summer back in the 1980s while I was doing a summer thing at UW. I was commuting back and forth by bus by myself as a 13-year-old cause 80s.)


    1. For anyone interested in my issue with the presentation of Locke, here it is. It is not clear at all in Locke that the law of nature is knowable by all in the state of nature. While he makes a claim for the equality of people in the state of nature based on our ability to know the law of nature in chapter 6, he claims in chapter 9 that the only way to know the law of nature is to be a studier of such law (as well as rational and not biased by self-interest). He writes, “for though the law of nature be plain and intelligible to all rational creatures; yet men being biased by their interest, as well as ignorant for want of study of it, are not apt to allow of it as a law binding to them in the application of their particular cases.” So much for nature as a basis of equality. (I won’t even get into whether Locke really thinks everyone has a natural right to property. Remember that God gave the world to the “use of the industrious and rational, not to the fancy or covetousness of the quarrelsome and contentious” (Chapter 5)). There is nothing in Locke that implies that the laws of nature are “imprinted on our soul” or that they are totally obvious to everyone. And to get into the nitty gritty of Locke, he certainly doesn’t think that freedom is baked into our souls. In fact, in Chapter 8 Locke write that we naturally run to absolute monarchy as our form of government because that’s what we have been accustomed to since our childhood. In the beginning of human society, he writes, people grew up under the patriarchal rule of fathers which “accustomed them to the rule of one man.” Given this, he writes, “It was no wonder that they should pitch upon, and naturally run into, that form of government, which from their infancy they had been all accustomed to.” There’s so much more to be said but I’ll forego any more Locke talk or flexing my credentials and will go be MOTI elsewhere for a while.


  1. I’m not a political scientist, but that interpretation sounds both Pauline and Lutheran to me. We know what the law is because it’s written on our hearts (Paul); also, everything important is obvious, you morons (Luther, both in sentiment and tone).


  2. Oh, absolutely. Natural law wasn’t dreamed up by John Locke by himself. He was building on a long tradition that goes back to Thomas Aquinas.


    1. Locke was bad, but Aquinas was so dull I could hardly read him. Apparently, to avoid being too Catholic, every year they did either Aquinas or Augustine and I got Aquinas. So glad I have not read political theory since 1993. I’m also delighted my old department made the news for “Fartenbury.”


      1. Aquinas is amazing – you just have to know how to read him, and read the more interesting sections. I’m a fan of his work on the different virtues, and on war. Some of his carefully structured arguments in the Summa Theologica are a joy to study. His practice of mapping out the opposite of what he thinks is true, and then carefully dismantling his opponents’ ideas piece by piece, is often very even-handed. He values good arguments, whether they come from Aristotle or Augustine or even Avicenna.

        Most people need a good teacher to get through Aquinas; I had a great Jesuit prof, a hardcore Anglican, and a Sister of Mercy (not exactly a Thomist herself but knew how to teach him) to get me going. I’m not Catholic but I try to pass along to my students what an incredible thinker he was. You just have to take it slowly, one argument at a time. Of course I disagree with a lot of what he says, but he’s great to study. If you’re not careful he’ll wind up reshaping your brain.


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